It’s hard to find the silver lining when it comes to a pandemic, but after enduring a barrage of setbacks, restaurants emerged even more resolute with new playbooks for survival and strengthening financial performance going forward.
According to a 2022 Popmenu study, 76% of restaurant owners and operators said modifying operations during COVID, such as by adopting new technologies, set them up for long-term growth opportunities. More specifically, they pointed to additional revenue streams, increased efficiencies and better guest engagement.
Whether restaurants readily implemented tech or did so kicking and screaming, the transition to more digitally enabled experiences introduced new possibilities for reducing friction and increasing orders. The Freakin’ Incan, a Peruvian eatery in Roswell, Ga., doubled its revenue over the last two years, largely due to more streamlined operations and direct online ordering, according to its owner.
While more than half of restaurant leaders said their businesses have returned to pre-pandemic levels or better, the threats of inflation, a massive labor shortage, COVID variants and potential recession mean the tech-driven strategies that helped many defy odds need to stay in motion. As restaurateurs assess their digital footprint to tackle immediate challenges and prepare for what’s next, it’s important that they ask themselves the following four questions:
Where can I alleviate staffing pressure?
After relying on delivery and takeout for the better part of two years, more consumers are eagerly returning to restaurant dining rooms. This is welcome news for restaurateurs, but one-third said they’re still not operating at full capacity because they can’t find enough workers to handle demand, according to Popmenu research.
The hospitality labor deficit isn’t going away anytime soon, which means restaurants need to employ creative ways to increase efficiency and lessen demands on overworked staff… all without sacrificing the guest experience.
Technologies like contactless payments and digital waitlisting are being used to manage transactions that don’t necessarily require a human touch – and turn tables faster. In the case of digital waitlisting, guests can add themselves to a waitlist, receive automated updates about their place in line and browse featured items or specials. After the meal, they receive an automated prompt to leave a review. What was once a burdensome, labor-heavy endeavor for restaurants automatically becomes a CRM capture and marketing opportunity.
Another example of automation is AI answering technology, which can smoothly field dozens of types of calls with highly customizable responses, direct consumers down the most efficient paths for reservations or orders and notify managers about priority calls they should return first. Monk’s gastropub in Chicago used AI answering technology to field 2,439 calls and generated over $30,000 in online ordering revenue — while freeing up staff to focus on serving guests.
Does my digital storefront meet consumer expectations?
On average, consumers spend 40% of monthly food budgets on restaurants. Where they ultimately choose to allocate those dollars often comes down to how appetizing a restaurant’s online experience is, especially when it comes to the menu and ordering.
Retailers like Amazon trained consumers to expect interactive purchasing paths where all their decision-making criteria can be found in one place — whether they are buying clothes, books or chicken fajitas. For restaurants, this means that consumers are looking for rich menu descriptions, photos for every dish, dish reviews and social validation (in other words, PDF menus won’t cut it). They also want an easy online ordering experience directly from the restaurant’s website.
Bringing Amazon principles to its own website — including a visually-driven, interactive menu — Libby’s Neighborhood Brasserie in Sarasota, Fla. received more than $500,000 in online orders over the last two years. They also generated over 1,300 reviews on their website to attract more guests.
How visible is my brand?
It’s no secret that a considerable amount of restaurant website traffic comes from local queries such as “pizza near me” on Google and other search engines. What remains a mystery for many independent operators is how to ensure their eatery makes the top ten search results so they appear on page one.
There are various factors that influence ranking, but the more pages a website has with relevant content for a search query, the better the chances of coming up higher in results. To put this into perspective, a PDF menu offers one page of content. An interactive menu offers multiple pages.
The Winking Lizard Tavern, a multi-location group in Ohio, treats each dish on its menu as a unique and indexed page. Not only does this expand searchable content, any updates to the menu such as new dishes or reviews signal search engines that there is new content to read. Within three months of implementation, they nearly doubled their home page traffic to more than 200,000, added 423 reviews and captured contact information for over 1,800 guests for remarketing.
How much data, control and revenue am I giving away?
How well a restaurant performs is strongly influenced by how well owners and staff know their customers. Third-party platforms can help with customer acquisition, but are best utilized as just one component of a more holistic digital strategy. If customer interactions and data primarily live outside of a restaurant’s own website and CRM, it severely limits the restaurant’s knowledge of guest preferences and the ability to control when and how engagement with guests happen — not to mention the substantial fees that make these platforms economically difficult to rely upon too heavily.
Consider this. Popmenu conducted an analysis of spending patterns of 2,425 people who ordered from a specific restaurant ten times or more over the course of two years. While the restaurant’s average online order amount is around $27, those 2,425 people alone placed ~$1.2 million in orders. Think about the opportunity that data provides to the restaurant owner who now has greater insight into active regulars, what they’re ordering, how to reward them and how to replicate outreach for others.
Understanding purchase patterns for guests can help restaurants hone strategies and build campaigns that are more targeted. Whether it’s through email, text or other channels, 65 percent of consumers want to receive special offers from restaurants at least once a week. More personalized communications equal more lucrative results.
As restaurants look forward, technology will continue to be a key ally in establishing closer connections with guests, driving greater sales, bridging labor gaps and enhancing hospitality. Little digital touches can add up to big wins in profits and help make sure restaurants are ready for any more curveballs coming their way. Long term, embracing the right technology to support operations in smart ways means freeing up the restaurant to give even better hospitality than they did when tech was just a tiny part of their operational picture.